Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few years, you probably know that poker is experiencing a huge explosion in popularity. Poker is not new, but the combination of tournaments on TV and playing online has resulted in a huge resurgence of the game. It is getting to the point where you need to know at least some poker knowledge to get through office conversations at the water cooler or weekend parties at your friends’ house!

You’re probably here because you don’t know the first thing about poker. That’s good as you’ve come to the right place! By the end of this tutorial you’ll know your flushes from straights and you’ll be able to talk the lingo at least to the point where an experienced player won’t think you are a complete newbie.

Poker is a really simple game once you get to know it. However, it can be extremely intimidating to the beginner because of all the slang, variations, and etiquette involved. If you want to get through a game you have to know the basic rules, how to bet, what equipment is used, the rankings of the hands, what variants of poker are out there, a bit about strategy, what etiquette you should be aware of, and even how to spot a cheat. We’ll cover all this and everything in-between, so let’s start out by learning the very basics.

One note before we move on. This tutorial is designed to give a new player everything he or she needs to know to play a game. However, if you don’t want to read from beginning to end, follow the links in the table of contents below.

What is Poker?

In this section we are going to define poker, learn about the equipment used in a game, and discuss the differences between different game locations. Everything covered here is important background information for the next sections on hand rankings and betting.

Here’s how we define poker in our dictionary:

A card game that involves strategy, bluffing, and luck, in which players bet that they hold the highest ranking hand. Although there are many variations, all include betting rounds during which each player can either call (place a bet equal to the current bet), raise (increase the current bet), or fold (forfeit the hand). All bets are placed in a central pot that is awarded to the player with the best combination of cards judged according to a predetermined ranking system.

All forms of poker involve rounds of betting and rounds of receiving/replacing cards. Each type of poker varies in the number of betting rounds and how you’ll receive cards. For example, cards can be dealt face up or face down, to the group (referred to as a community card) or to an individual player. Combine all these factors and you can see how there are so many different variations of poker.

The great thing about poker is that it is simple enough for anybody to pick up but complicated enough that you can take a lifetime to master. Its not like other games at the casino that rely completely on luck. Though luck obviously does play an important role, (poker is still gambling after all), there is much that separates a good poker player from a bad poker player. This is perhaps what best separates poker from other gambling such as slots or roulette.

Where to Play

There are 3 types of places where poker is played. Because rules and etiquette can differ based on the location, it’s important to think of each game in its own context.

  • Casino – You’ll be able to play poker at almost any casino. Casinos aim to provide the best experience for all patrons who participate at their establishment. They are run very professional with dealers, pit bosses, and cage persons to ensure and maintain an efficient atmosphere. Casinos take their business seriously, and as with any other form of gambling, casinos are very strict where it comes to protocol and cheaters. While your friends at a home game might let you get away with bad etiquette (which we’ll discuss later), don’t expect players at a casino to have as much patience.
  • Home Game – Friends have held poker nights out of their house for years. This is probably where most poker players get their start. Playing such a game is great for a beginner since there is generally much more tolerance for players learning the rules. As well, since usually you’ll know the other players, a home game is just as much a social occasion as it is an opportunity to gamble. The downside is that you probably won’t strike it big at most home games. Depending on the stakes, amounts wagered could be much lower than at a casino, with this as a factor, luck will play a much larger role in a players outcome. If it only costs $1 in a home game to chase a card then maybe youll chase, conversely if it costs $60 to chase a card you may re consider.
  • Online – The newest “place” where you can play poker is the Internet. The great thing about playing poker online is that you can join in tournaments at practically any time from the comfort of your own home. Questions still remain as to the legality of Americans playing poker online, but despite this legal gray area, nobody would dispute that thousands are doing it.

Necessary Equipment

At a minimum you’ll need some cards and chips, or something that represents chips (toothpicks, pennies, bottle caps etc) to play a round of poker. If you want to get fancy, there is also additional equipment that can be used. Here are the essentials:

  • Playing Cards – Being a card game, you’ll clearly need some cards. Most poker games use a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Casinos will use a new deck every 15-20 minutes or so to ensure that cards which may have been marked or bent during play are discarded. At home there is no need to throw out decks throughout the night, although it’s preferable to have at least a few spare decks around.
  • Chips – It’s cumbersome to use currency in a game of poker and so poker chips are used to bet. They’re great because they can be stacked and handled easily. Clay chips are the best quality and are used in casinos. Plastic chips are available and are much cheaper. When you play in a casino chips are usually valued as follows: white = $1, red = $5, blue = $10, green = $25, black = $100, purple = $500, orange = $1,000, gray = $5,000, pink = $10,000.
  • Table – You can play on any flat surface, and in fact most home games are played at the kitchen table, but custom poker tables makes for a professional poker atmosphere and can make a game run much more smoothly. Poker tables generally have a solid felt surface allowing for easy picking up of chips and cards. They provide built in compartments that allow players to neatly store his/her chips. Some even have cup holders. And most importantly, it gives easy access to the pot by all players.
  • Cut Card – Before cards are dealt, the dealer will place the deck upon the cut card to ensure the bottom card is not exposed. This is always used in a casino, but rarely at home.
  • Dealer Button – Sometimes called a “lammer” or a “buck” indicates who the dealer is. In casinos, a dealer button is also used in games like Texas Hold’em to represent a players position, and who has to place the blind or ante.


In this section we gave a general definition of poker and then introduced some of the background knowledge required to understand the game. Next we’re going to learn how the hands are ranked. Following are more information you should learn to understand the basics of poker.